In the days following his sudden death, colleagues and friends lauded former Vienna Town Manager John Schoeberlein’s 26 years of service and his no-frills, but caring, management style.
“John was a consummate local-government manager,” said Town Attorney Steven Briglia. “He did not seek the spotlight, but was tireless in making sure the details of municipal functions and services were being observed.”
Schoeberlein, 74, died May 30 after collapsing that afternoon while working in his garden. Rescue personnel took him to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Vienna police said.
“It certainly was a shock to all of us,” said Vienna Town Manager Mercury Payton, who succeeded Schoeberlein after he retired in 2011.
Schoeberlein, a native of Aurora, Ill., who became Vienna’s town manager in 1985, was one of the first people Payton called during the interview process and he gave Payton tips on how to be successful in the town.
“He has laid a foundation for the town of Vienna that we are still realizing today,” Payton said.
Briglia came to know Schoeberlein 30 years ago after being appointed to a town commission. After serving on the Town Council and then becoming town attorney in 2002, Briglia worked more closely with Schoeberlein and their relationship deepened.
“What I remember most fondly of John was his love of baseball and the Chicago Cubs,” Briglia said. “I am sure the 2016 World Series win by the Cubs was a highlight of his sporting life.”
Schoeberlein had direct and straightforward method of management – Nike’s corporate slogan “Just Do It” basically summed it up – but cared greatly for his employees, even when he had discipline them, he said.
“The fact that the town had so few employee grievances during his tenure is a testament to his fair management,” said Briglia, who added that worker turnover also was rare during Schoeberlein’s tenure.
The town government accomplished much during this time, from creating the Northside Property Yard and Town Green and installing streetscape improvements on Maple Avenue and Church Street to implementing a meals tax, complying with the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act and ensuring all public buildings met Americans with Disabilities Act standards, Briglia said.
Schoeberlein attended more than 500 Council meetings and work sessions, oversaw 26 budgets and helped the town achieve a coveted triple-A bond rating, said Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay (D).
“He oversaw tremendous change in the town of Vienna,” McKay said.
Council member Howard Springsteen recalled that after he first was elected, Council colleague Maud Robinson told him Vienna had one of best town managers in Virginia.
Schoeberlein “gave me history of the police station we just bulldozed down,” Springsteen said. “He had great institutional knowledge and was very proud of the Public Works Department . . . He was an ideal town manager for Vienna.”
Former Town Council member Laurie Cole fondly remembered two things about Schoeberlein’s office at Town Hall.
“One was that his desk was immaculately and precisely organized, with nothing extraneous on it,” Cole said. “The other was the pair of seats from Wrigley Field. He and [his wife] Julie were great Cubs fans.”
Schoeberlein was “always professional and extremely knowledgeable,” said former Council member Edythe Kelleher. “I learned so much from him.”
Schoeberlein was instrumental in helping make Vienna a top-rated community in the nation, said Mayor Linda Colbert.
“John Schoeberlein was committed to his job and his professionalism made him respected by Council, staff and town residents,” Colbert said.
“My father [Rodger Seeman] was on Council and later my mother [M. Jane Seeman] was the mayor when he was the town manager and I know that they really liked working with him,” she said. “He was also my neighbor and always greeted me with a smile and good conversation.”